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Criminal procedure

juveniles—confidentiality rules

Juvenile and other courts, and law enforcement and other public agencies maintain a variety of records regarding juveniles who become involved in the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system—including arrest records, school records, medical or behavioral health records, and family and social history. Many states have laws that restrict access to these records to protect youth from the stigma of a record in the juvenile justice system or criminal justice system. The confidentiality of juvenile records is in contrast with the open records laws that apply to adults in the criminal justice system. Laws regarding access to juvenile records, sealing of juvenile records, and expungement (destruction or deletion) of juvenile records vary from state to state, and are usually located in a state’s statutes.

In Texas, juvenile records are protected under various statutes to maintain the confidentiality of minors who have been involved with the juvenile justice system. Texas Family Code Chapter 58 provides the framework for handling juvenile records, including their creation, dissemination, and eventual sealing or destruction. Access to these records is generally limited to certain entities, such as law enforcement, the courts, and specific authorized agencies, and is not available to the public. Juveniles or their attorneys can petition the court to have their records sealed, which typically occurs automatically at age 17 or 18 if certain conditions are met, such as avoiding subsequent convictions. Additionally, under certain circumstances, individuals may seek expungement of their juvenile records, which effectively destroys the records, making it as though the incident never occurred. These protections are in place to prevent the long-term negative impact of having a juvenile record and to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth into society.

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